By Alexander Lewis
Head Social Media Editor
The Holocaust and Human Rights Center at MCC in partnership with the Genocide & Human Rights Awareness Club and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities hosted Holocaust survivor, Erwin Ganz, who told his story of the violence and destruction of Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass, in the West Hall Parkview Room on April 12 at 2 p.m.
According to a flier for the event, Kristallnacht saw almost all synagogues in German and Austria destroyed, thousands of businesses and homes ruined and 30,000 Jewish men forced into prisons and concentration camps.
History department faculty member and Adviser of the Genocide and Human Rights Awareness club, Terrence Corrigan, opened the event with a short speech.
“The month of April is genocide Awareness Month and today, April 12 is Holocaust Remembrance Day,” said Corrigan, “Exactly 80 years ago this year Kristallnacht took place in 1938 and so it’s fitting that we have a speaker, a survivor from both the Kristallnacht in Germany and the Holocaust here speak today.”
Ganz said that the economy was suffering in Germany before Kristallnacht.
“My father told me that he had to use a wheelbarrow filled with money to garden a pathway and buy a loaf of bread and a couple of donuts,” said Ganz, “By the time he got to the bakery he did not have enough money; these were very difficult times in Germany.”
Hitler came to power as a direct result of massive unemployment, high inflation and blaming the Jews for most of Germany’s problems.
“My family … my father … we were Germans,” said Ganz, “My father fought in the first world war on the German side.”
Ganz said, “He was wounded four times you got all kinds of metals and he was a prisoner of war in France for seven years; both of his parents, my grandparents died during that period of time, but it wouldn’t make any difference to Hitler; he still would have killed him.”
“Anti-Semitism was becoming rampant all over Germany due to Hitler’s weekly radio tirades against the Jews,” said Ganz, “My parents had no choice but to enroll me in a Jewish school … [and] even though I was five years old, I had to take a train to and from school every day by myself.”
“This trip was not easy for me: the brown-shirted Hitler Jugend, Hitler Youth, they used to wait for the Jewish children at the Wittlich train station,” said Ganz, “They harassed us, they called us names and on occasion they stole our books.”
Ganz said, “Many times the police were at the train station [but] all they did was turned their backs and did absolutely nothing.”
“November 9, 1938… the day started out just like any other day. I still remember the day was overcast and gray,” said Ganz, “When I came home that day from school… my mother was waiting for me at the train station [and] she told me as we walked home that terrible things that happened at our house while I was in school.”
Ganz said his mother gave him a banana, which was a delicacy at that time in German, to distract him from the horrendous sight he was about to see when he got closer to the house.
“I could not believe what had happened: windows were broken, glass was on the street, and in our front yard and inside the house the Hitler Youth, with a hatchet, slashed all of our mirrors, picture frames surface, and chairs and anything else they saw and as they walked upstairs to our bedrooms,” said Ganz, “With a hatchet they smashed the door frames on each step going up.”
Ganz said, “Each of our bedrooms were heated by coal burning stoves; these were ripped from the foundation and thrown onto the beds.”
Ganz said that many of the Hitler Youth were teenagers who shopped in his grandmother’s store and that their parents could not help his family.
“Their parents were afraid of their own children,” said Ganz, “Can you imagine that? Because their own children would report them to the Gestapo, they would be put into jail.”
“The Gestapo that night burned the only synagogue in town [and] … destroyed the Jewish businesses,” said Ganz, “I still remember seeing flames in the night from my bedroom window.”
Ganz said, “I also remember that the Gestapo came to our house that very night to take my father away; thank God my father was already in America.”
“I will never forget that sight as long as I live, this destruction,” said Ganz.
“That very same night, which became known as Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass was the beginning of Hitler’s extermination of the Jews,” said Ganz.
Ganz said that he visited his old home in Germany many years later.
“As I went upstairs into the bedrooms, I was still able to see the hatchet indentations on the door frames … 47 years afterwards and [after] many coats of paint,” said Ganz.
Ganz said the synagogue was turned into a Jewish museum and that he spoke to the caretaker there.
“He talked about the history of the Jews as though what happened, happened thousands and thousands of years ago, but we all know this is not ancient history but current history,” said Ganz, “And it gave me a very eerie feeling.”
“It made me think … it brought back memories … I remember what they did,” said Ganz, “Can you imagine a young child coming home and seeing all this damage and [the] flames in the sky and [Gestapo] coming to the house … to take my father away.”
Ganz said, “I heard all of this; I saw the Gestapo in my door.”
Corrigan said, “Events like these are key to remembrance and for also for genocide prevention as we move forward in the future.”
Corrigan said that joining the Genocide and Human Rights Awareness club can also help, you can join by emailing Professor Terrence Corrigan at [email protected] or coming to their bi-weekly meeting in Raritan Hall, Room 106 on May 7 at 11 a.m.